The picture here was taken only after about two or three days in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was July 4th and I hardly knew any of my fellow volunteers. Over the next 2 years perhaps we got to know each too well in some ways and not nearly enough in others.
Seventeen years after that photo, I have no idea what has happened to any of the gentlemen in the photograph beyond this–one married a Bulgarian, one had to be psycho-vaced out of the country and perhaps his Bulgarian girlfriend joined him later, and another married his fiancee. Or so I heard.
But the other day I a particular memory of one long Peace Corps night that didn’t take place in Bulgaria came to me as vivid as yesterday (why do memories sometimes surprise us like that?). I was in Bratislava, Slovakia (a lovely cit, by the way). The time of my flight out of Bratislava and back to Sofia, Bulgaria meant spending the night in the Bratislava train station.
From one in the morning until six in the morning there are only a few men hanging out at the train station. I was the only westerner and the only woman. I walked around to stay awake. I smiled at no one. In my memory there is a lot of white and empty space. I would sit on one bench for a while and then move to another. I bought shots of coffee and techno music blared through speakers. Every man watched me get up move from one place to the next. One man spoke to me, but I didn’t speak Slovak, so I shrugged and turned away. The train station felt like the only place in the universe and the only question that returned to mind was whether any woman should ever travel alone.
No friend or family member knew where I was. This was before (can you remember this life?) before cell phones and so many laptops. There was no one to call if help was needed.
And still when I think about being 25 years old, without one bit of technology within reach, no knowledge of the language around me, at four in the morning, being watched by a few men in flashy suits or tattered, too well-worn clothes, while I struggled to stay awake, I wonder why sharing my writing is scarier.
That makes no sense, does it?
I wish I’d spent that night in the train station writing.